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Cattle Slaughter Ban: Dalits Desert Jobs, Gaushalas Refuse Cows

When the ban on sale of cattle for slaughter was introduced, the government was of the opinion that this would protect cattle from being mistreated. However, Kanhaiya Lal, a 72-year-old farmer from Jayapur village in UP, told The Quint that old cows and bulls are still getting killed – albeit not in slaughterhouses.

Even though the Supreme Court stayed the ban two months after it was notified by the Ministry of Environment in May 2017, it appears the damage was already done. The SC’s stay has been unable to prevent ground realities from altering, at least in villages near Varanasi. One such consequence of the ban seen here is related to the Dalits who made a living out of disposing dead animals.

Dalit Pack Up and Leave Occupation ‘Due to Fear’

Kanhaiya Lal says Dalits played a pivotal role in the rural economy by disposing dead cows — a role that farmers resist from doing even today. When we asked him where can we find the Dalits, he directed us to Jamuni village about 10 kilometres from Jayapur village in Varanasi district.

When we reached the Jamuni chauraha (crossing), we were surprised to see that Dalits who lived here for almost two decades have packed up and left.

This is the hut on Jamuni crossing where the Dalits used to clean carcasses of dead animals. Now it is locked and lies empty without it’s inhabitants, who lived here for about 15 years.
Locals in Jamuni said that Dalits in the area felt no immediate danger, but fear drove them away.  However, when we asked them the same queries on camera, not everyone was comfortable to talk about it. Hence, we spoke to a farmer away from the crowded crossing.

Since Dalits, who did the job of disposing dead cattle left, how were the farmers disposing dead animals now? “Now, ten-odd people come together and throw the cow a few kilometres away from the village. Then a dog or another animal comes and eats it,” Yadav said.

The Dalits’ hut had a number painted outside with the words, “sampark kare, meaning “contact here”. A local gave us two other numbers for those who dealt with cattle carcasses.

The Quint tried to call on all three numbers, while no one picked up two of them the third was picked by a woman who said she was on the Nepal border.

Numbers  given to us of the Dalits who lived on the Jamuni village crossing in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh. They lived here till a few months ago.

While the stay has had no meaning on the ground, the ban is effectively in force. The numbers of stray cattle are on a steady rise in the countryside which are not only hurting Dalits. To understand the impact further, we went then to the next logical stop, a gaushala, which are meant to be protective shelters for cows.

Gaushalas Overburdened With Cows, Say ‘No-More’

Three to four kilometers away from Jamuni crossing is Shahanshahpur village, where a government-run gaushala has been taking in stray and helpless cattle from nearby villages. Narendra Modi had visited the gaushala in September last year. The purpose of building such gaushalas is to prevent the Indian breed of cows from becoming extinct. But they’ve been doing much more.

The dairy in-charge at the Shahanshahpur gaushala, SP Singh, says that they are currently holding animals way above the shelter’s capacity. Singh said that they don’t go out of their way to look for stray cattle, but when cows abandoned by villagers end up eating the fodder left for the shelter cattle, their burden increases by default.

But till when can they continue this?

Around 25 kilometers away is another private gaushala, the Sri Kashi Jeev Diya Vistari, Rameshwar Gaushala in Varanasi district. The in-charge here, Ramprakash Yadav, says they’ve stopped taking in cows.

Yadav says that they have no space anymore. When asked about the stray cattle that roams outside their gaushala, he says, “The government will have to take appropriate measures, we have done all we can.”

UP is the most populated state in India and doesn't have abundantly-available land that could be converted to gaushalas. When The Quint spoke to Hansraj Vishwakarma, BJP district in-charge, Varanasi, he said a plan was in the making. “The CM has spoken about it. The DM and SDM have been given instructions to find space for this initiative. The economic facilities of labour and food need deliberation. Everything will be decided and a fund will be given so the farmers are no more in distress.”

Farmers Are Scared and Stressed

More than 90 percent of farmers in UP are small or marginal and the ban on sale of cattle for slaughter is hurting them. Yadav from Jamuni village is one of them and feels that there is stress because of the stray cattle feeding on their harvest. “Earlier nilgai were a major issue and now its not only them but the male calves and old cows which are grazing on our farms,” said Yadav.

Kanhaiya Lal from Jayapur points to another issue, of a hesitation that farmers have in raising a cow – something that was not there before.

There is so much fear about cows that people have begun to prefer to raise buffaloes to cows. Unlike cows, buffaloes and their calves are sold easily. Cows are considered gods, but buffaloes aren’t. When old cows stop giving milk we silently go a few kilometers away and leave them. 
Kanhaiya Lal, farmer

Lal goes on to say that the police catches and harasses farmers if they are found with cows. “We buy the cow to bring it home and nurture it, but policemen keep bothering us. Many times the cow and its baby calf are together. Even then they think we are going to slaughter it without any good reason. This is merely politics,” Lal said.

Both, Yadav and Lal, are of the opinion that before the government introduced the ban, they should have thought of its consequences too. Till the time the government comes up with a solution, the slaughter ban will continue to cost Dalits their livelihoods, farmers their crop and over-burden gaushalas. Most of all, it will continue to hurt the holy cow.

Video editor: Prashant Chauhan, Ashish MacCune

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